There has been mention recently in the local media about the advocacy efforts of the Catholic bishops of New York State at the State Capitol in Albany. The Diocese of Buffalo, with the seven other dioceses of New York state, is represented in Albany by the New York State Catholic Conference, the official voice of the Catholic Church in our state. The conference represents the bishops in working with government to shape laws and policies that pursue social justice, respect for life, and the common good. Through the NYSCC, the bishops speak with a unified voice on issues of education, poverty, family life, abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, social services, health care, criminal justice and the environment. This is the way in which the Church shines the light of Catholic social teaching on critical issues of the day and encourages citizen involvement in the legislative process through the Catholic Action Network.
Recent examples of our advocacy in the NYS legislature include support of legislation to protect vulnerable adults from financial exploitation, to further remove barriers to prosecuting predatory traffickers who sexually exploit children, and to require 48 hours parental notification prior to abortions performed on children under age 18. We also support the Farmworkers Fair Labor Act and the New York State DREAM Act, which would provide opportunities for immigrant students who meet certain criteria to be eligible for financial aid to assist them to attend institutions of higher education. We have lobbied against proposed legislation, too, including expansion of abortion, contraceptive insurance coverage, and access to "emergency contraception" available for girls as young as 11 or 12 years old without parental knowledge or physician oversight.
What caught the attention of the media in recent weeks is our opposition to the current version of a child victims act. Less attention has been given to our strong support of meaningful reform of the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse that would apply equally to all, and is aimed at preventing abuse and punishing offenders. The current Child Victims Act instead focuses on new civil lawsuits for cases that are decades old, even 40 or 50 years, going back indefinitely against not only abusers, but their employers. This legislation would force institutions to defend alleged conduct long ago about which they have no knowledge, and in which they had no role. The current CVA also provides cover for public schools and municipalities to avoid such lawsuits, and does little to help prosecutors bring criminal charges against those who abuse children.
What the NYS bishops support is an alternative bipartisan bill (the Cusick Bill) that eliminates the criminal statute of limitations completely, significantly extends the civil statute of limitations going forward, mandates background checks for anyone who works with children in a public or private institution, adds clergy to the list of state mandated reporters of child sexual abuse, and treats all victims equally, without the ill-advised "window" to reopen decades-old claims that are extremely difficult either to prove or defend.
One of the most important points to remember about the Cusick Bill is that it treats victims and institutions equally. The current CVA would apply to private entities such as the Catholic Church, but would exempt public institutions especially public schools. What about justice and healing for victims in those institutions? It is the tragic truth that sexual abuse adheres to no such public/private boundaries. Both the Cusick Bill and the current CVA have two primary, shared goals - stronger protection of children and much-needed justice for survivors. However, the Cusick Bill takes a fairer and more effective approach. We must punish offenders equally and that demands both public and private institutions be held accountable in equal measure.
As always, the Diocese of Buffalo commits itself anew to its pledge to heal and promise to protect. I ask you to join me as we continue to pray for all victims of sexual abuse and their families.